Jubilee Church has been going through a tough few weeks. We have lost a much-loved member of the church. Alison was a founder member of the church, who reflected the love of Christ in our community and whom many of us can claim to have been a spiritual mother. Her loss is all the more painful as it was so sudden and unexpected.
It has been a time where the church has drawn together and while the pain has for many been intense we have been able to draw comfort from the love and support of those around us in our church community. It's at times like this that the importance of being together in a church community comes to the fore.
I have often heard it said by individuals that people can enjoy a good relationship with God without having to be part of a church. I can hear from the Holy Spirit wherever I am, people say. But God recognised right from the time that He created the human race that it is not good for man to be alone. The church was His idea, and, if I may say so, I think it was one of his better ones. It is not good for man to be alone and God is building His kingdom on earth not through individuals but through the church, despite its weaknesses and its failings. The church isn't perfect, it gets things wrong sometimes: but it's still God’s and still an essential part of His plan for mankind.
I saw a graphic demonstration of what happens when we go it alone recently. I'm privileged, with my wife, to be a volunteer at the RSPB’s peregrine falcon project at Chichester Cathedral. The other day I was down there and a flock of pigeons flew by the cathedral. One of the adult peregrines was off like a rocket, though the flock proved impenetrable to her. Yet one of the pigeons panicked and took off from the flock. The peregrine immediately left its attempts on the flock and set off in pursuit of the lone individual, which would make a tasty snack for her growing family. The lone pigeon didn't stand a chance, yet would have been perfectly safe had it stuck with the flock. We have an enemy who is happy to pick off individuals but Jesus says ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’
I have just been reading the opening of Acts. When Jesus first rose from the dead he visited the disciples on a number of occasions, and gave them clear instructions. He told them to remain in Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit. At that time the disciples must have been in some bewilderment and the temptation to slink back to their own homes must have been great. By being together as instructed, the Holy Spirit came to them together and led to the formation of the worldwide church which still survives and thrives 2,000 years later. No doubt each of the 12 could have received the Holy Spirit individually, in their own homes. But by obeying Jesus’ command to be together they achieved infinitely more than they could have done individually.
And the same is true of us today. Being part of a church is such a privilege, yet it's one that's open to everybody. It gives us comfort and support when we need it, a place of safety and at the same time a place of achievement and sense of purpose. Like I say: one of God’s better ideas. We haven't made it perfect yet, you will need to bear with our imperfections: but it's a far better place than trying to go it alone.